Student accommodation constitutes particularly fertile ground for greedy landlords, unsuitable (and in some cases unsafe) housing, negligent estate agents and, to top it off, extortionate rent prices. Can SEASALT help overcome the prolific rent crisis in Brighton? And would you like to be part of this radical solution to terrible student accommodation?
At The Verse we have reported on numerous issues our students have found with their accommodation, from Kaplan Living throwing away students’ possessions to Lilly Croucher’s investigation into Grosvenor Properties.
I have always expected the worse of student accommodation, philosophising that if I have a pessimistic attitude, maybe I will not be disappointed. However, even that has not helped me. I have numerous stories of bad landlords and bad estate agents. My first year, nine-bedroom student house was not ready in time for us to move in when term began, so my housemates and I had to stay in a hostel for a week at our own expense. When we did move in, we did not have a sofa for three months (apparently it got lost in transit). One room was so tiny that my housemate could hardly fit her bed in it, this was later turned into a broom closet. At another house, the oven broke and was not fixed for two months and there was that horrendous damp and mould that never got sorted despite constant emails and phone calls.
Even when I thought I had got away and moved out, I had to wait in trepid anticipation to see how much money will get deducted from my deposit. Anyone with experience of living in student accommodation will have harrowing memories of this. Of course it is unreasonable to charge £250 for a professional clean when the house was filthy when I moved it but that is just the way that things are, right? Well actually no. SEASALT Housing Co-operative sheds some well needed light onto the dark, disingenuous, and despondent world of student accommodation in Brighton. A share offer was launched by Brighton and Hove Community Land Trust in a partnership with SEASALT, and they have now raised £336,350 and looking to secure their first home.
SEASALT (South East Students Autonomously Living Together) was founded by and for students from the Brighton and Sussex universities in 2018. They are the first student housing cooperative in the South-East. Housing co-operatives are an alternative to traditional housing means. They provide a model of housing that works through a collaboration of people that live together and that control the building which they live in. The co-operative owns the property and effectively lets it out to the tenants. This bypasses the need for landlords and estate agents and means that all the decisions are made by and for the people living there. On their website SEASALT states that “Our vision is of a student led initiative for affordable housing, democratic living and long term sustainability”, that was created to “tackle the rent crisis faced by students: high prices, rip-off landlords and poor quality unsustainable housing.”
In Brighton, the housing crisis in clearly evident in substandard yet extremely expensive student accommodation. The often precarious and undemocratic tenancy agreements offer little security for students as tenants. They are also fraught with poor environmental standards, prioritising high profit margins over anything and everything else. Expensive student accommodation buildings are still being built, like the new building on London Road. This can make residents and students feel like they are at loggerheads and not part of the same community. Residents see increased student accommodation at the expense of other facilities and family homes. SEASALT provides not only a solution for students, but for the whole community and, importantly, SEASALT brings to light that these issues are not specific to student accommodation, but a symptom of the chaotic, unfair and unstable rental market as a whole.
SEASALT has eight main aims, quality: to provide high quality housing; affordable: providing affordable rent; community: to create a vibrant community of knowledge and skill sharing; democracy: maximise democratic control of the co-op; education: educating people about co-ops; co-operation: working with other co-ops; pioneering: demonstrate the value of co-ops and sustainability: minimising the environmental impact. All these seem reasonable aims and requests for accommodation and now that SEASALT have secured their investment goal, they can transform their ideas from vison to reality.
I believe this project is brilliant and holds the key to a much better approach to student accommodation. Housing co-ops hold the potential to exchange our current housing crises for a much better system the prioritises community needs rather than the wallet of landlords and estate agents. If the idea of this seems too good to be true, it is only because of our expectations of student accommodation are so low, SEASALT has laid the groundwork for changing the dynamics of the student rental market. I cannot wait to see the developments SEASALT’s makes, my only regret is that I wish I knew about this when I began university in first year! However, you can be part of SEASALT as they are still looking for people to join them in a working group to develop their projects and the SEASALT network, and gain some great skills along the way.